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BY Junior Americans heading north of the border

Suffolk County or Canada? Those were the travel destinations the Bayside Yankees Junior Americans were facing for the upcoming National Amateur Baseball Federation Regional. Their choice was Canada of course, but thanks to last Monday’s 10-6 loss to the Long Island Tigers, it appeared Joe Kessler’s team was heading east rather than north.

But things are not always what they seem in baseball and when Tigers management informed its head coach Ray Babinsky that the funds were not there for another road trip, Kessler and the Yankees were more than happy to change their itinerary.

“We’re used to it, in terms of the travel part but it was tough to tell the parents one thing and then turn around and tell them another,” Kessler said. “But with this team, anything can happen.”

After a week of playing part-time travel agent, attempting to find transportation and hotel reservations for a team of 20, Kessler seemed to be more at-ease on the field Sunday at St. John’s University as the Yankees capped an impressive regular season with an equally impressive 13-3 win over the Putnam White Sox.

“The key to the whole day was to get everyone an at-bat and to be able to rest some of the guys who were banged up a bit,” Kessler said.

Kessler also wanted to give pitcher Anthony Vernaci, whom he expects to be one of his starters in the Regional, one more outing before the post-season. While the Bellerose native didn’t have the usual pop on his fastball — which has been clocked at 86 mph — Kessler was impressed with Vernaci’s accurate curve ball.

“When you get to the Regional, you play doubleheaders on Thursday, Friday and Saturday so you need six starting pitchers,” Kessler said. “We’re really going to need Anthony later in the week. He’s probably the hardest thrower on this team and while he didn’t have good location with his fastball, he had good control with his curve.”

Vernaci didn’t have much trouble with run support as the Yankees broke out of their recent offensive slump in a big way, scoring nine runs in the first three innings to give the Archbishop Molloy righty a comfortable lead.

“I felt pretty good today even though I didn’t have good command of my fastball which made me rely on my curveball more,” said Vernaci, who allowed two runs in 4.2 innings, striking out three while walking three to improve to 3-2 on the season. “And the guys played hard behind me.”

Bernie Estevez got Bayside (35-10, 9-1 Elite League) off to a good start with a leadoff walk. After reaching second on a wild pitch, the shortstop from Cardozo stole third and scored on another wild pitch uncorked by Putnam starter Ian Sabatini. The Yankees added three more runs in the stanza as Jason Leberfeld and Matt Heenan each had RBI-singles and Justin Manfredo drove in Bryan Cipolla on a groundout to short.

“The bats finally woke up out of the slump we’ve had for the past week and a half,” said Estevez, who reached safely in all four of his at-bats, including a single and two walks. The College Point resident also scored four times. “We’re showing some good signs for the Regional coming up.”

Bayside continued its offensive tear in the second inning, tacking on three more runs on a two-run single up the middle by Joseph Graziano and Cipolla’s sacrifice fly to center. The Yankees went ahead 9-0 in the third as John Armenio and Heenan each scored on wild pitches by Sabatini.

After Putnam scored two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, Bayside responded with another three spot in the sixth as Rich Moran drove in two with a double to centerfield and scored on Manfredo’s single to right to give Bayside a 12-2 lead as the Yankees players begin to think about their trip to Welland, Ontario.

“I’m excited to travel again,” said Estevez, who will be making his first trip north of the border. “It’s supposed to be good competition. Hopefully, we can win in Canada and go on to Michigan [site of the 2001 NABF World Series].”

Bayside Yankees 7-9, Long Island Red Sox 6-1. Mike Baxter was the offensive hero in game one of Friday’s doubleheader at Clarke High School with a two-run triple in the seventh inning to erase a 6-5 deficit. Tim Qually (6-1) picked up the win in relief, throwing 25 pitches in two innings. The righty turned around and was also credited with the win in the second game as the Yankees cruised to a 9-1 win.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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